Asia

Pakistan protests: Imran Khan in a tight spot

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Media captionImran Khan talks to Shaimaa Khalil

For more than two months, Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan has been leading rallies to unseat a government he accuses of stealing last year's election, but so far he has failed to achieve his goal. What happens now?

The former Pakistani cricketer has been able to bring big crowds on to the streets of cities like Lahore and Karachi and there is no doubt the government has been weakened since protests began in mid-August.

Yet for all its problems of governance and the shortcomings in addressing perennial issues such as the economy, unemployment and electricity shortages, Nawaz Sharif's government seems to have ridden this political storm relatively successfully.

The prime minister's still in power and Imran Khan is still on the streets - which begs the question of what his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has actually achieved.

"What we have achieved is beyond what I imagined," Imran Khan told the BBC in Islamabad.

"The political awareness in Pakistan, the way people understand their rights. Women! Never have women participated in politics like they have right now. And this is because these sit-ins lead to political awareness which lead to the public interest."

Tight spot

He still insists that the main aim is for the prime minister to go.

"The end game is Nawaz's resignation, and it will happen because he is now struggling to govern Pakistan." Mr Khan said.

But analysts here say that Imran Khan is now in a tight spot especially after Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) leader Tahirul Qadri ended his protest sit-in in Islamabad last week.

The two party leaders had launched their anti-government protests on the same day - 14 August, Pakistan's Independence Day.

While the PTI continues its campaigning, the PAT wrapped up its sit-in after 70 days.

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Image caption Tahirul Qadri says his party will continue protests around the country
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Media captionAmber Shamsi reports from Tahirul Qadri's protest site in Islamabad

Imran Khan reiterated his resolve that he would not leave the site of his sit-in until he got justice.

"We are not going to sit back and allow this rigged election," he told the BBC, referring to the May 2013 general election which Mr Sharif won by a landslide.

"The fundamental question is, should we as a nation accept a prime minister who has come in through a rigged election? If we accept this, then we should accept Hosni Mubarak had elections, Saddam Hussein had elections, Mugabe has been holding elections for 30 years.

"So we will be reduced to a banana republic and that's where we are heading."

Imran Khan has called on his supporters across the country to gather in Islamabad on 30 November in a bid to revive momentum and keep the pressure on the government. It remains to be seen whether it will be any different to all the previous rallies.

"So long as the people are with you, it's a matter of time. If it's not 30 November, it's 30 December. But it's a matter of when we will win."

There is the ongoing argument that Mr Khan is backed by the military who have been at odds with Nawaz Sharif's government.

But this is an argument he vehemently rejects: "No army can bring out crowds. This is successful... because the people of Pakistan are supporting us."

Sports royalty

Apart from his message of reform and a "New Pakistan" - or Naya Pakistan, which is the slogan of his campaign - Mr Khan himself is the biggest draw of these gatherings. His fiery speeches and charisma have managed to draw in the crowds.

Outside his container in Islamabad hundreds of supporters and admirers wait to get a glimpse of him, shake his hand and, if they are lucky, have a short conversation with him.

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Media captionDJ Butt has become the man behind the soundtrack to Imran Khan's current anti-government sit-in in Islamabad

His face is on posters, billboards and T-shirts that young people now wear to the rallies - he has even been featured in a fashion line here.

He is regarded as sports royalty and many of his young supporters see him as new blood in Pakistan's stagnant politics which has changed hands between two major parties - the Pakistan People's Party which led the previous government and the Pakistan Muslim League which leads the current government - and the military for decades.

The risk, analysts say, for Mr Khan is that so far he has been seen more as a campaigner than a politician. Despite his popularity Mr Khan is an untested leader when it comes to policy and governance.

"I don't care what people think of me," he says. "All I want is for this country to become a genuine democracy."

Whatever the outcome, Imran Khan is in a critical position, analysts say.

If the government does not step down - and there is no sign that it will - then the PTI leader risks leading thousands of people into disappointment and eventually the question will arise of how long these rallies can go on for.

If the government is ousted, many here say that this would set a dangerous precedent and derail the country's shaky democracy.

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